Donald Macintyre's Sketch: The talk of the glen is evensong and a glass of wine


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Indy Politics

Nobody was actually singing “Oh Danny Boy, The pipes are calling from glen to glen... Tis you must go and I must bide”… There was nevertheless something elegiac about what could be Danny Alexander’s Commons farewell.

It was hard to tell whether the freshly trimmed ginger barnet he was sporting today – or his novel election leaflet, headlined, as it happens, “The Talk of the Glen”, and including a recipe for “Danny’s Sausage and Butternut Squash Stew”– presaged a major fightback against the SNP’s increasing domination of his constituency or a new post-defeat career as a folksy Highland restaurateur.

Either way, with George Osborne away in Brussels, he was more party political than usual, sensibly sidestepping a question about the deafening reticence of HSBC’s former CEO and Tory minister Stephen Green on the Swiss tax evasion scandal, telling Dennis Skinner that “matters relating to ministerial appointments are... for the Prime Minister.” This was a less hubristic response than his Tory sidekick David Gauke’s when challenged by Labour’s Shabana Mahmood on “why the Government parties are so desperate to silence Lord Green? What are they so afraid he will reveal?” “We are not afraid of anything,” announced Gauke. “Of anything?” Crazy if true, which it isn’t.

The most baffling intervention came from Tory Alistair Burt who suggested that his local businessmen regarded the Government’s “long-term economic plan” with “the same degree of comfort and familiarity as evensong in an Anglican church”. We thought instantly of surpliced choirs mouthing such adages as “Ending the deficit by 2020, fixing the roof while the sun shines, Tory competence versus Labour chaos” in an exciting new liturgical plainchant.

But it was Labour who seemed to revert to its non-conformist temperance origins as booze suddenly went party political. Tory Tim Loughton had lengthily warned that there would be “wailing and irrepressible disappointment” if the Chancellor did not slash wine duty next week. “If it is not already too late to make this suggestion,” Gauke amiably replied, “I think my honourable friend deserves a good bottle at lunchtime after that effort.”

But the genial mood was punctured as Labour’s Barry Sheerman sternly urged Gauke “to stop worrying about the older generation of wine drinkers and start concentrating on the young people of this country who are underprivileged, overtaxed and have more problems in getting a good job”.

To underpin this new dividing line the Tory Andrew Griffiths exulted that the Chancellor had been “the saviour of Britain’s brewing industry”. The Treasury as the toper’s friend! It might even help Alexander in Inverness.